Reading A Newspaper By A Wall

Deseret News: Caught in cultural war between tradition and change

Deseret News (hereafter referenced as DN) has been under consistent attack. From who?

Their own viewers.

A broad base of Mormon conservatives (not all, of course) have taken issue with DN and the supposed “left-leaning” content they are sharing with increased frequency.

For example, last week they published the headline, “8 takeaways from Trump’s aggressive and threatening U.N. speech.”

Objectively analyzing President Trump’s words, the speech genuinely came off as aggressive, increasing tensions and straining friendships around the world. Phrases such as, “(We) will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea”, “Major portions of the world are in conflict and some, in fact, are going to hell,” and “(the American military) will soon be the strongest it’s ever been” could easily be interpreted as threatening by any American or world citizen.

Underneath the corresponding Facebook post, some of the comments read:

A) “Absolutely perfect speech. It’s all true, all fair, & what the world needed to hear. Deseret News, you invite only fear & panic with your ridiculous headline. Shame on you!”

B) “I didn’t vote for him, but that was an impressive (speech). Deseretnews your headline is shameful.”

C) “‘aggressive and threatening?’ No; bold, matter-of-fact, principled, and assertive. Something all past presidents should have done. There is no reason that the United States should be submissive to the United Nations, nor taken advantage of by other nations. Does DesNews have a leftist agenda?”

Another comment, which reflected the sentiments of many, read, “Does Deseret News reflect view of the church? Has Deseret gone socialist and the way of the world ? Good on Trump.”

Thus, we need to get something clear: DN, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, defines their mission as, “(To) be a leading news brand for faith and family oriented audiences in Utah and around the world.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a religion which, at its core, promotes peace, hope, and love for all of God’s children.

Neither is obligated to be an echo chamber for conservative views and politics, and both can represent values and beliefs from all walks of life. As the church has said in recent years, “Principles compatible with the gospel may be found in various political parties, and members should seek candidates who best embody those principles.”

“The bedrock moral issue for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is how we treat each other as children of God.” – Church statement on immigration, 2011.

The fundamental problem which produces this quandary stems from the longtime association of the church with conservatism and the Republican party. The association has gone on long enough that a chunk of conservative Mormons now shudder at or even reject messages from church leaders and about topics like assisting refugees. Church members have adopted conservative beliefs into their religious paradigm and now are expressing culture shock that other members and even their own church might hold differing views. DN is simply the easy target for these frustrations (cognitive dissonances) to be conveyed, producing captivating opportunities to analyze the mindsets of Utah Mormons.

These comments are also representative of the pains and struggles faced daily by progressive Mormons: Due to the notion that only traditional conservatism is compatible with church teachings, conservatives avoid talking about our ideas and skip straight to challenging our right to even possess them.

Generally, DN continues to show a right-of-center tone which reflects the conservative views of the church and its members. Instances where DN is accused of publishing “liberal propaganda” honestly says more about the viewer than it does of anyone else, because one has a short leash if they consider DN to be a biased, left-leaning newspaper.

Last month, the church came out in open support of the LoveLoud Festival. Reactions ranged all over, some boldly declaring, “I adamantly disagree with the LDS leadership in giving its support in anyway to immoral lifestyles.” Some said they wished DN would stop giving attention to these stories.

Nowhere did the ire come out fiercer than when an editorial piece called for a resignation to Donald Trump’s candidacy a month before the election. A legitimate case, based on both conservative and progressive values, was presented for their decision to do so: “The idea that women secretly welcome the unbridled and aggressive sexual advances of powerful men has led to the mistreatment, sorrow and subjugation of countless women for far too much of human history.”

The ensuing outrage was predictable, yet dispiriting. Fear of a Hillary Clinton presidency showed through as individuals openly conceded they didn’t care what Trump did or said, just as long as Clinton wasn’t elected. Displaying such opposition (came from DN editors, not church leadership) to Trump was equated as direct support for Clinton, even though support was never offered.

From my personal observations, I’ve gathered that a number of DN viewers would prefer an interactive social media style closer to that of Fox 10 Phoenix. I recently lived in Phoenix and am quite familiar with their audience engagement methods.

On their social media pages, posts are frequently made with intentions to antagonize a democrat, an immigrant, a person of color, someone portrayed as being unpatriotic, etc. Likewise, posts promoting Donald Trump, military strength, or an individual shutting down a challenger of the status quo are quickly met with a standing ovation. The formula is easy: 1. Create post 2. Viewers receive dose of confirmation bias and become enraged. 3. Post clicks, likes, and comments flood in.

Fox 10 Phoenix. Credit: Facebook.

Thankfully, DN doesn’t follow this strategy. They (and the church) recognize the colossal responsibility of having a global membership. They must appeal to the whole membership, not just a conservative subset within western America. Positive, humanistic messages aren’t a flashy trend, they’re what Mormons around the world are forever internalizing.

The church and membership have become increasingly open to the expression and implementation of progressive values. Less popular comments under the above mentioned post, but ones I personally identified with, included:

A) “The LDS Church has been inspired to speak out against Trump’s policies on many occasions. The global Church is no longer a community of Utah Republicans. We are a human family which is a fundamental LDS value.”

B) “You think the LDS church is eager to have a nuclear war with North Korea?

Whether or not this base of conservative Mormons can finally bring themselves to accept some of us hold these varying views and are still “good members” of the church will be the defining influence of Mormon politics in the coming years. DN has slowly been getting ahead of the game and then some, because to not accept this would create a poor reflection on the church and possibly even be a losing business strategy.

Mormon youth, for example, are increasingly open to progressive ideas. This isn’t because millennials are becoming “wicked” as some have sheepishly attempted to point out, it’s because the traditional conservatism they grew up with is unappealing. Rather than getting flustered and red-in-the-face when hearing about an undocumented immigrant in their city, they’d prefer to give that person a hug. Social media posts vilifying immigrants would quickly receive “unfollow” clicks from this population.

DN will continue to be conservative-based for the foreseeable future and that’s perfectly okay. Regardless of our core beliefs and values, we should all appreciate their honorable efforts to present reports and commentary representative of diverse worldviews.

About the author:

Braden Jenks is the founder of The Progressive Mormons project. He is studying Addiction Studies at Minot State University. You can contact him at theprogressivemormons@gmail.com.

Cover photo credit: garryknight (Photopin.com)

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